Big Problems, Bigger Solutions - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Big Problems, Bigger Solutions

Big Problems, Bigger Solutions

By Eugene S. Robinson and Joshua Eferighe

A police officer speaks to demonstrators during a protest in response to the death of George Floyd.
SourceMaddie Meyer/Getty


Because it's better to have an idea and not need it than to need an idea and not have it.

By Eugene S. Robinson and Joshua Eferighe

Imagine if you were forced behind the wheel of a car and expected to drive somewhere. Anywhere. You might be able to pull it off, but the panic and the concern connected to not murdering yourself and everyone else on the road would consume you. Likewise, when we’re called up as citizens to parse what the population is presently going through in the midst of a global meditation on what it means when we’re murdered by those who are charged with protecting us, it gets a little … sticky.

Which is to say, while “unrest” is a term that’s often been used following the May 25 killing of George Floyd, that would imply there was a state of rest to begin with. As protesters all over the country hit the streets demanding justice, peace and a little bit of rest, we are wondering where the first steps might start. Here are our six best.

1. Policing

Make no mistake, the vast majority of police, blue-collar workers with the miserable job of dealing with us when we’re at our worst, are not, despite agitprop to the opposite, bastards. They are also just the hands of a system that directs their actions and activities more often than not. But given that they are the focal point of problems and on the front line of dealing with them, is there a way we can create a causal break in tragedy, and reaction to that tragedy? Cara E. Rabe Hemp, a criminal justice professor at Illinois State University, thinks so.

“Use-of-force problems are pretty consistently caused by a small and known number of officers,” Hemp says. And there isn’t a watch commander in America right now who wouldn’t weed out the top likeliest trouble employees if they could. And they can’t. Because? “The police unions are very strong.”

Bad pilots shouldn’t be flying planes. Bad police shouldn’t be policing our streets.

2. Education

Something that has been painstakingly apparent is the purposeful effort to hide Black contributions to history. It’s evil. It’s gross and it’s … emotional, to be honest.

From Black Wall Street being burned down in Tulsa to Juneteenth to police departments being able to trace their origins back to slave catching, chunks are missing. Who is responsible for hiding this information? Or at the very least creating roadblocks in being able to gain access to it?

Black people have had to teach themselves their own history, then go and perform for a system they know has tried to trick and lie to them. Yet we wonder why there is a disconnect and mistrust in teachers? Or a disproportionate dropout rate? It would make us feel a lot better if answers were available about what gets left out of the history books. Healing can never start without responsibility and culpability. Apologies are needed. Which brings us to …

3. Apologies

There needs to be an apology tour. Much like a president showing (or not showing) his tax records, there needs to be an unveiling — a pulling back of the curtains to uncover the larger governmental involvement in the disabling of the Black Panther Party, the crack crisis of the ’80s, the doctoring of history books and wayward police forces. There needs to be humility and an ownership for these things and more. Like Germany did to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. Like Turkey is resisting doing in explaining what the country had done to millions of Armenians. Anything else is a Band-Aid fix.

4. Policing Part 2

It can be healthily said that when cops go bad, there’s a whole chain of responsibility that responds, and more often than not when settlements are reached, it is the cities and municipalities that pay out. Sure, the cops’ lives are frequently not ever the same — from unemployment to unemployability and in extreme cases jail time — but again, the same citizens that have been trespassed upon are typically holding the bag here.

Perhaps settlements could instead come from police retirement funds or pension plans. Appealing to raw financial self-interest might make the difference between police officers sitting on a handcuffed “suspect” until he dies, and not. And it might increase pressure from the rest of the force to toss out bad apples rather than put their own retirements in jeopardy.

5. Reparations

If this pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that America can pull money out of its behind at the drop of a dime — if it feels like it needs to. It might not be economically sound or logistically possible, but something (reparations?) needs to be put in place to secure the advancement of Black people after we decide that killing us is not workable. Forty acres and a mule, jack? Not now. A GI Bill for higher education for folks who need it? Nice start.

6. Inequality

Botswana has never had a coup or civil war despite being a mineral-rich state. It’s also, hands down, the most stable democracy in Africa and has ranked far higher than even the U.S. on Transparency International’s Corruption Index for the last five years. The key to that stability?

A traditional dispute-settling and inclusive governance model called the Kgotla, which began centuries ago and was embraced by British colonialists. Continued since after the country’s independence in 1966, it involves a traditional court presided over by the head of a local community, and decisions are made by consensus. It typically fosters a deep-rooted sense of community and family.

Might help, can’t hurt.

Agree? Disagree? If you have better ideas, we’d like to hear them. You can start in the comments below.

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